Most residential neighborhoods have two-way streets lined on one or both sides with sidewalks. Although it is becoming more commonplace, most streets do not have a dedicated lane for bicycle traffic. Regarding safety, especially along busier thoroughfares, is it legal to ride on the sidewalk, even if the cyclist is proceeding against the direction of traffic?
In places such as New York City and San Francisco, riding on the sidewalk is banned for cyclists older than age 13. Many towns and cities throughout the country, such as Chapel Hill, N.C., Columbus, Ohio, and have similar laws.
That’s not the case everywhere, though. In Sacramento, Boston and Washington, D.C., sidewalk cycling is allowed. Even if sidewalk riding is legal in certain places, bicyclists are vulnerable to accident and injuries that can be life-changing or even deadly.
In California, there is no state law prohibiting sidewalk cycling. Over the years, most personal injury attorneys encounter numerous cases where cyclists involved in an accident are cited as the responsible party because they were riding on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic, or entered an intersection in the crosswalk from the sidewalk against the flow of traffic.
In either case, the investigating officers are mistaken in their interpretation of the law. Both practices are legal in California and usually much safer than asking the cyclist, especially children, to navigate several additional crossings or much longer routes to travel with traffic.
Most rural towns and cities in California do not have local ordinances prohibiting cyclists from riding on the sidewalk. In fact, in many jurisdictions, it is promoted to mitigate the potential for collisions and negative interaction with vehicular traffic. Whether it is banned in larger cities, varies significantly by jurisdiction. Many larger cities in California specifically prohibit the practice in commercial districts, (because of the danger to pedestrians on crowded sidewalks) but not in residential areas. This distinction is applied in the City of Sacramento for example.
Children are still discouraged from riding on the sidewalk against the flow of traffic, even when it is the safest alternative. Every state has a different set of laws for bicyclists, so it’s worth brushing up on the basics. Following the laws that apply to bicyclists and the safety rules below will greatly reduce your child’s chance of getting hurt or getting a ticket.
Go slow. The sidewalk is built for pedestrians, so you should not be riding faster than a relaxed jog. Blazing wildly down sidewalks is a perfect way to get hurt, hurt someone else, or get pulled over by a cop.
Yield to pedestrians. When overtaking pedestrians, bicyclists should give an audible signal. Never come up behind them yelling or doing anything else that could startle or scare them.
Check every cross street and driveway. When coming up to a driveway or cross street, make sure that you slow down and check that a car isn’t coming. A driver may pull all the way up to the road before coming to a halt and turning onto the street you’re following. They aren’t looking for bicyclists to be coming off the sidewalk, so you have to be watching for them.
Cross the street only at crosswalks. Darting off the sidewalk into the street carelessly is a good way to get hit by a car. Drivers aren’t looking for bicyclists to jump off the sidewalk into traffic carelessly. If you have to cross the street, wait until you get to a crosswalk and do it there.
Be willing to walk your bike. Usually due to congestion, there are going to be many times where the best decision is to get off your bike and walk. When there are just too many people on the sidewalk that you risk hitting one of them, it’s time to walk. Always keep it in your mind that you can get off your bike and walk if things seem “iffy.”
Like anything, cycling safety is all about riding defensively and being aware of the world around you. Teach your children to stay aware, and you’ll improve their chances of being safe.